Mountain Lion: First Impressions from a habitual late adopter
I’m not an early adopter. I’m not a big fan of change. I still have a computer running Panther, if that says anything about my rate of technological uptake. I’m still using a cell phone that just has 12 keys on the front plus a power button and a send button.
But Wednesday morning as soon as I saw the notification in the App Store that it was available, for some crazy reason, I took the plunge and upgraded to Mountain Lion. I’ve never been a first day user of an operating system before. Why did I do it? Well, mostly because I knew there would be questions on Ask Different and I thought it would be fun to be able to answer them.
It occurs to me that since I’ve never done this whole “day one” thing before, perhaps I should write a blog entry about it. I’m clearly no John Siracusa, but here goes.
I started downloading the program from the store as soon as I found it for sale. The download was surprisingly smooth for a file that size on the first day of release. After fretting a bit over whether my backups were sufficient, I took the plunge and installed, trusting Time Machine rather than making a bootable clone.
The installation experience was remarkably unremarkable. Everything went smoothly. It was a non-event. Which is actually a pretty big accomplishment for an OS upgrade. By moving OS upgrades into the App Store, same as the update to any other software on the machine, Apple seems to be sending the message that these sorts of things are No Big Deal. If that’s their goal, they seem to be getting it right.
Most of the Mountain Lion features seemed fairly unremarkable. Mission Control’s option to behave more like Exposé and not group windows by application was welcome. On restart, the programs I had open when I installed Mountain Lion reopened, with the same documents in the same places. Shockingly not an event at all.
Who moved my cheese?
Notifications Center was on the “slightly looking forward to it” list for me. I’d heard the drawer for notifications would appear on the right side of the screen. I hadn’t anticipated that the Notification Center menubar icon would be fixed in the top left corner. Losing the top left corner for Spotlight was less than welcome. I had no idea how much it would throw off my habits, but it really did.
What really fixed the situation for me, though, was another Mountain Lion feature. A user on Ask Different, Stuffe, suggested that clicking the Spotlight icon wasn’t the best way to launch Spotlight. I realized that my most frequent use of Spotlight was to launch programs. With one hand on the trackpad, I would click the Spotlight icon and type the first few letters of the program name with my other hand. Spotlight no longer can do this easily. But the new search feature in LaunchPad, on the other hand, fit the bill perfectly.
So now, I assigned a hot corner to LaunchPad. I can toss the pointer to the corner with one hand on the trackpad, type a few characters with my other hand, then click the icon I want. A perfect compromise, in my book. Mountain Lion taketh away, but also Mountain Lion giveth.
The main feature I was looking for in Mountain Lion was Power Nap, the feature where the OS periodically wakes the computer from sleep without activating any audio, video, or fan to download software updates, check mail, and do other behind-the-scenes updating so when your computer wakes, it’s ready with new content. Since my mid-2011 MacBook Air is one of the few supported models for this feature, this was a big sell. I frequently use my computer in places without WiFi, so if it will download mail messages while sleeping/charging but I don’t turn it on until I’m somewhere where there is no WiFi, having grabbed e-mail would be a big help. Sadly, when I first installed Mountain Lion, there seemed to be no option in System Preferences to enable Power Nap.
My disappointment was short-lived, however. Before the end of the day, <del>Software Update</del> the App Store had a firmware update for my machine to enable Power Nap.
So it was my first try at being an early OS adopter. Was it worth it?
Well, there are some OS releases I’ve skipped entirely, and not really felt like I missed much. Given the overall maturity of Mac OS X, the primary reason to upgrade seems to me to be able to use newer software that requires the latest and greatest features of the new operating system. That’s what pushed me to from Panther to Tiger on one machine and from Panther to Leopard on another. But changes to the operating systems these days seem to close as many doors as they open: Leopard dropped the Classic environment, Lion dropped Rosetta, and all upgrades seem to introduce various quirks that cause one program or another to stop working.
That said, Mountain Lion seems pretty gentle, at least in terms of the programs in my workflow. Perhaps because Lion forced me to do some updating, by the time Mountain Lion rolled out, there wasn’t much that broke this time around.
On the other hand, I’m not seeing (yet) any killer features that Mountain Lion enables. Unlike Core Data or Core Animation or garbage collection or other technologies rolled out that make third party developers’ jobs easier, I don’t suspect Mountain Lion will unleash the same sorts of programs dependent on features contained only in 10.8. Maybe iCloud and Notification Center are killer features, but I have yet to be sold on their merits.
So the major plus, in my experience, is that upgrading to Mountain Lion enabled me to explore the operating system when it was first released to the public. It allowed me to use
strings to look for new hidden preferences, and examine changes to AppleScripting dictionaries. It enabled me to try to answer people’s questions.
If it weren’t for Ask Different, I think the $20 would be better spent going out for lunch a couple of times. But given the opportunity to participate in this community’s discussion and dissection of the new operating system, I’m glad I could be a part of it.